Residue

 In my part of town, there’s a simple practice we all do when we discover something lost. We hang it up on the nearest railing, fence, or lamppost, in the hope that the person who dropped it might find it again. It means you are sometimes greeted by the sad sight of a single glove, or a bicycle key twined to a wrought-iron barrier. It’s usually assuaged a few days later when it disappears again. Assumedly restored to its rightful owner. 

 That is why this forest clearing has my heart racing. The sheer variety in the array of children’s toys and clothes. Hanging from so many tree trunks. So many branches.

Lessons in Concealment

 He did not take the shortcut on this woodland road unless the others were all snowed under. While he did not believe in the stories of vengeful spirits that everyone in this single-supermarket town liked to tell, he also did not care to tempt fate. 

 He turned the beams up high but kept his speed low, for coming off the tarmac would be the worst thing that could happen here. First he passed the beech under which the redhead was buried, and then the creek where the second had been left among the reeds. Locations that had featured in no newspaper or police file. He slowed a little more and checked his fuel. His family were waiting for him at home.

Each One Had a Name

Dawn folds itself over the sheets. Her fingernails on my chest, finding the rise and fall of my contours, reading the thin words of my flesh. 

 “This one?” she asks. Her index plumbs an indentation in my belly. 

 “Seventeen,” I answer. A fish boning knife. She traces the shape of a soldered worm on my side, vestige of a razor.

“And this one?” she asks again. 

 “Four,” I say. She nods. Like she understands. 

 “How many more until you finish your list?” 

 I sigh and shrug, keep my eyes on the oil lamp. Count the slow flickers as it chokes.

RSVP

 Stark trees still in hibernation, he turned the lamp down. Flushed the light from the shutters. Drew the locks across the doors. None had found this hideaway yet.

 His fingertips found his wards scrawled into the doorframe wood. Hoping they would buy him time, should she return. He had let her in once and still paid for it in lost homes.  Self-care had come too late.

 He counted the tools on his belt and settled into the armchair to sleep. For another night, he waited for the light of the hearth to wane. Listened for feet on the gravel path.

Bespoke

 The skin of her fingertip held together with a clamp, she applied a line of superglue. Took in its scent as it bonded the two halves back together. A dressmaker until the need for dresses died, she had slipped with the knife she was using for her work. Cut off a larger piece than intended. Unfamiliar with the new medium, she’d have to grow accustomed to it soon. Once the glue dried she would start work on the mask again. Any more failures, and she would have to get more material. She crossed her fingers. She cared very little for the tanning process.

Line’s End

 The brief summer love now stretching her shirt had him asking questions of himself. Counting the options on his fingers. Am I a provider? Am I capable of unconditional love? Will biology fail them like it has failed me? He turned the weight from one palm to another. Considered the matter objectively. 

 He broke the action and filed his choice away. As one palm grew lighter, so did his conscience. This course of his had the least amount of pain, in the grand scheme of things. Despite the heat, the metal still felt cold. The hammer clicking back like relief.

Legacy

 A sword, glum and without sheen. Too ugly to be a display piece, but there it was, above the mantelpiece. Dormant, without its scabbard. 

“Why’d you keep that hideous thing up there, Uncle Vernon?” I ask. He had invited me for dinner, unusually. We hadn’t spoken in years. Not since our argument. He called me a wastrel, pissing away his dead brother’s nest-egg. He wasn’t completely wrong. Two years later and I’m penniless. 

 “There’s an old family legend, lad,” he says over his brandy. “That this weapon must take a life every fifty years, or our house will fall into ruin.” 

 I drain my drink to the ice. “You said this dinner was about a job opportunity, Uncle,” I say with impatience.

 “It is,” he says, unblinking. “Let’s wait for our dinner to go down first.”

Insider Trading

 The corrections officer ran the biometric scanner up Graham’s breast. Bold, digitized, red, it declared: EXPIRED. Many observers would have still called him a child at his sentencing, those decades ago when the implantations began. The need for prisons crashed when repeat offenders carried explosives somewhere on them. 

 Graham had knuckled down. Studied hard. Added letters of all sorts to the end of his name. Stayed whole while other boys from his gang tried again. Lost arms. Faces. Lives. He would be a model example of the project’s positive effects. Took a role in the implant factory to prove his route to reformed citizen was complete. 

 The officer waved him off, a free man. He left, cycling the serial numbers he’d memorized. The list of duds he had approved for use. Graham would contact their owners tonight. He had just the job in mind.

Last Post

 The flare casts a ghost light over that landscape shorn of trees or shelter. We conscripts knew the hills where the enemy dwelt and assembled the last guns known to the sane. Laid fire on the mountainside until nothing remained. Trees splintered and threw themselves into matchwood. The aftermath of a windless storm. Only raw earth to bury the very green of this world’s last goodbyes. 

 Now we man posts on this barren and forsaken expanse to our doom. If a figure moves in the midst of that friendless waste, our orders to fire again. Yet naught but stillness for months. Food runs low. The men wonder if we are the only ones left. I order them to stare down their sights, and throw flares hopelessly up to the black.

Still Life Photographer

The fellow sits in the car, his bare feet on the dashboard. The same position all night. Waiting for something to snap. Waiting for the woman from the nearby convenience store to make her way home. Then he will cover the speaker on his smartphone, steal images known to none but himself. They will be pulled out after, in silence, to grease his palm. She looks back at him the way one regards caged hyenas. With curiosity. Fear.

 He will take more later. Of mannequin poses to compare with the ones he admires online. This just another exercise in reconnaissance.